Rehumanize Yourself by William Klein

The Police wrote a song titled “Rehumanize Yourself.” It was a song written about “people becoming disconnected from their humanity when placed in certain circumstances.” The song was inspired by a real incident. Lead singer and songwriter Sting heard about some skinheads kicking a man to death outside his house.

“Policeman put on his uniform/Had to have a gun just to keep him warm, because violence here is a social norm/You’ve got to humanize yourself.”

You don’t have to look far to notice that people are demonstrating behavior that undermines decency. We all wear masks, but recently some people feel as though they’ve been given permission to demonstrate their indecencies in public, particularly as it relates to race. The masks have been pulled down and we see the angry interior life of individuals who are displaying their angst against other races. I’m thinking of the white supremist rioters who invaded the Capitol wearing hate Nazi slogans and spewing hate. 

Some border patrol agents call migrants “tonks.”  The name is an onomatopoeia and was derived from how it sounds when someone is being beaten by a flashlight.  Former border agents note that border agents do whatever they can to dehumanize their victims, so they can live with themselves and do their jobs.

Phillip Zimbardo and the Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrated that the more we don the gear of authority and strip ourselves of our humanity, the easier it is to wield power and exhibit control. During his experiment he had students play the roles of inmates and prison guards.  He intentionally had them wear sunglasses so prisoners couldn’t see their eyes. The police uniforms they donned automatically put them in a superior position of power. Zimbardo gave these students the right to hold their power over others and some of the students became drunk in it and bullied the role-playing inmates. 

In our political climate right now, the media has joined the fray in spewing dogmatic language –Left vs. Right, Right vs. Left. The algorithms are set on giving the people what they want to hear — the divide and conquer rhetoric that will be the undoing of us. Where’s the common ground in recognizing our humanity?

Some people have taken the art to another level; empowering people to express their deepest darkest selves at political rallies; demonizing of the “other side” like journalists, the left, the disabled, Muslims, immigrants and minority groups has inspired more division and inspired white nationalist followers to act out in ways we haven’t seen before in the public square. Such followers of indecency are drunk on expressing this side of their humanity and have lost touch with Godliness. Bullies have been given permission by autocrats to speak their indecency freely. Followers exhibit their shame and don’t even realize they are doing it. They announce their shame by calling out racist epithets and establishing significant divisions in themselves and others. They disregard injustices against minorities and justify their own indecency. 

This indecency stems from something lacking in their own lives, whether it be power and lack of material goods. It may have come from a lack of connection to something or someone early in their lives. It could be the manifestation of abuse in some way – physical, mental or emotional. Some were raised to believe in superior races and empowered to keep others down, so you can get a leg up in this world. They’ve been empowered by fear and fearful thinking in surviving in this world.

Psychologically speaking, some people delight in bullying. Studies suggest that a bully bullies and torments others because he has been bullied. He is empowered by his actions. Perpetuating inhumanity is part of the human experience as people learn to cope with a lack of connection in their lives, but to see this on a macrocosmic level is daunting. We’ve seen this mass mesmerism before in history. We need to be aware of our actions to break the cycle.

The question is how do we change? First, we examine ourselves and our own intentions. We need to consider how our actions are contributing to the common good. How am I asserting white privilege? How can I empathize with minority groups and their plight in the world? Seek common ground.  What is the central goal for the common good?

We need to examine ourselves and look at those parts of our lives that have contributed to acting in such a manner.  What am I doing to examine my own deficiencies as it relates to others, particularly when it regards their race, creed, color or sex?

Do I recognize that we are all made in the image of God? And as such, am I demonstrating that through my actions?  Do I objectify people? As philosopher Martin Buber noted, “Do I treat others as an ‘it’ rather than a ‘thou?’” Do I revere holiness in all its forms? Do I respect nature and the sacredness of nature? Do I honor others in all I do or am I doing my part to perpetuate injustice and indecency? This calls for honest self-assessment and deeper personal reflection.

Some people are not willing to do this work.  They are not willing to look at their own indecency because it is too painful for them, so they will find ways to avoid it in life. They feel safer living a lie rather than confronting their indecency honestly.

In the end, the act of rehumanizing ourselves is a process.  Either you’re willing to engage in the process and identify with your humanity or will do anything at all costs to avoid it and go along to get along. It takes courage to be honest and tap into the humanity that we are called to express through the likes of holy people like Moses, Jesus, Krishna, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Rumi, and the sacred scriptures that touch our lives.

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